SCOOBA — Cliff Collins had one primary goal when he returned to the East Mississippi Community College football team’s coaching staff prior to the 2017 season.
“In 2013 and 2014, we won (National Junior College Athletic Association) national championships because of our front four,” Collins said. “We have guys dominating in the NFL that played here along our line. The team is known for points and stars at quarterback and all that. Those championship teams played elite defense. Our job is to return to doing that.”
Collins had served as a defensive assistant for nine seasons. After a one-year absence, he returned to the school as the team’s defensive coordinator. A year ago, he coached the players he inherited and tried to mold them like the championship lines of the past.
It worked to a degree.
EMCC allowed 25.1 points per game en route to an 11-1 season that ended with the program’s fourth national championship (first since 2014).
Now, the Lions have tweaked their recruiting philosophy.
“If you look at the defensive line, that is way the out-of-state (scholarship) money has gone,” EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said. “Four of the eight (out-of-state scholarships) are right there. That tells you our emphasis. That tells you what we are trying to do.”
On day one of this season, the plan worked to near perfection.
No. 1 EMCC routed No. 13 Hinds C.C. 50-0 in the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) season opener at Sullivan-Windham Field.
EMCC’s championship squads in 2013 and 2014 had five shutouts. A year ago, EMCC had one — a 59-0 win at Northeast Mississippi C.C.
The Lions matched that total in about two hours Thursday.
Hinds C.C. had 81 yards, which was EMCC’s fewest yards allowed since it surrendered 77 against Mississippi Delta C.C. on Sept. 29, 2016.
The out-of-state players along the defensive line include LSU transfer Sci Martin Jr., Darel Middleton (Knoxville, Tennessee), Kane Taylor (Clearwater, Florida), and Michigan State transfer Lashawn Paulino-Bell.
Return of Miller
A familiar face was back behind center in the second half for EMCC.
Vijay Miller is back with EMCC after not playing in 2017. In 2016, the former All-State selection from Itawamba Agricultural High School, threw for 599 yards and six touchdowns in a relief role behind DeAndre Johnson.
In the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft, the San Diego Padres selected Miller in the 14th round and offered him a chance to play professional baseball.
This summer, Miller appeared in 15 games and threw 29 innings in the Arizona League. His final appearance of the season came Saturday.
On the football field, he still has three seasons of eligibility.
Against Hinds, Miller was 8-for-14 for 82 yards.
Stephens said Miller’s family had expressed an interest in Miller returning to the program during his off time from baseball. He said he was pleased both sides were able to work the details.
In his EMCC debut, Michigan State transfer Messiah deWeaver threw for 323 yards and four touchdowns as EMCC built a 43-0 halftime lead.
The third member of the quarterback rotation is Hattiesburg freshman Julian Conner. With the return of Miller, Conner has been working at wide receiver.
EMCC improved to 9-2 in seasons openers under Stephens (2-1 against ranked opponents) … EMCC recorded its 21st shutout under Stephens … EMCC had 559 yards, which is its fourth most in a season opener … The Lions had three takeaways (interceptions by Keilos Swinney and Josh Miller and a fumble recovery by JaQuez Akins) … EMCC has won 29 straight at Sullivan-Windham Field (39-1 at the stadium since it opened in 2011).
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.